Category Archives: Politics

Public Wants a Deal

In any political debate in Washington, both sides try to claim the side of public opinion. So, what is the public’s opinion of the debt ceiling the debate? They want a deal:

 

The public overwhelmingly favors a compromise in the debt ceiling standoff. And even as negotiations aimed at resolving the issue show little progress, a majority thinks that Barack Obama and congressional Republicans will reach a deal before the Aug. 2 deadline on a possible government default.

Fully 68% say that lawmakers who share their views on this issue should compromise, even it means striking a deal they disagree with. Just 23% say lawmakers who share their views should stand by their principles, even if that leads to default.

There is broader support for compromise today than on the eve of a possible government shutdown earlier this year. In early April, 55% favored a compromise even if that resulted in a budget deal they disagreed with, while 36% wanted their leaders to stand by their principles even if it led to a shutdown.

Large majorities of Democrats (81%) and independents (69%) favor a compromise to avoid default, but Republicans are more divided: 53% favor a compromise, while 38% say lawmakers who share their views should stand by their principles even if it leads to a default.

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Boehner’s Debt Plan Solves Nothing

Congressional Republicans filed a 57-page bill outlining Speaker of the House John Boehner’s two-step plan to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion. The first step raises the debt ceiling by $1 trillion and is contingent on 10-year savings of $1.2 trillion from annual appropriations bills, and the second step would raise the debt ceiling by $1.6 trillion after an additional $1.8 trillion in savings in cuts from social safety net programs. It is unclear if it would have the votes to pass the House, and it likely has no chance of passing in the Senate.

The plan does many things. This plan creates another default crisis next year, right in the middle of the Republican presidential primaries. It is far from a balance plan, which is what the majority of Americans want, as it raises no new revenue. It will result in deep cuts in the social safety net, and could dramatically change Social Security and Medicare. The plan would still likely mean a downgrade of the United States’ AAA credit rating, unlike the plan proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It’s a plan that does many things, but solve the problem.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of the Boehner plan characterizes it as “tantamount to a form of class warfare,” and that if enacted it could produce the “greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history.”

“The first round of cuts under the Boehner plan would hit discretionary programs hard through austere discretionary caps that Congress will struggle to meet; discretionary cuts thus will largely or entirely be off the table when it comes to achieving the further $1.8 trillion in budget reductions. As Speaker Boehner’s documents make clear, virtually all of the $1.8 trillion would need to come from cuts in entitlement programs. (Cuts in entitlement spending totaling more than $1.5 trillion would produce sufficient interest savings to achieve $1.8 trillion in total savings.)

To secure $1.5 trillion in entitlement savings over the next ten years would require draconian policy changes. Policymakers would essentially have three choices: 1) cut Social Security and Medicare benefits heavily for current retirees, something that all budget plans from both parties (including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan) have ruled out; 2) repeal the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions while retaining its measures that cut Medicare payments and raise tax revenues, even though Republicans seek to repeal many of those measures as well; or 3) eviscerate the safety net for low-income children, parents, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. There is no other plausible way to get $1.5 trillion in entitlement cuts in the next ten years.”


What Monks Could Teach Washington’s Politicians

Henry G. Brinton, a pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia, writes in USA Today that political leaders in Washington, D.C. could learn something from Sixth-century Irish monks in how they approach the debt ceiling debt. Brinton says that political leaders can be a “diplomat and a warrior, but the two roles must be held in creative tension.”

“House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who has been out front for the GOP, could learn from St. Kevin, who was so disciplined that he held out his arms for hours in prayer. One day, a blackbird laid an egg in Kevin’s hand, and he remained in that position until the baby bird hatched. While there is clearly some historical hyperbole in this story, it illustrates Kevin’s strong commitment to a position, which a politician such as Cantor would have to admire. But Kevin was equally committed to the welfare of his community and served as the abbot of a monastery and the bishop of a region outside Dublin, caring for the needs of young and old, rich and poor. He balanced extreme personal discipline with service to the larger community.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is steering the Democrats in the House negotiations, should sit at the feet of St. Brigid, who founded two monastic institutions, one for men and one for women. St. Brigid was a strong leader, equally committed to contemplation and hospitality, and knew that some lessons are best learned from sitting down at a table with strangers, talking with them and being influenced by them. Pelosi should share a meal with some Tea Party Republicans, and see whether a dinner conversation can accomplish what political debate cannot.”

While interesting lessons can be gained from examining the lives of the monks, I find it a stretch to compare their religion beliefs with political ideology. More specifically, the monks balancing of their “strong positions with a commitment to hospitality and community life” is much different than a politician balancing their ideological position with a commitment to serve the country. If only because those strong positions held by the monks were about something greater than themselves, and politicians positions are often about serving their own political self interests.

However, Brinton makes an interesting comment that it’s “hard to believe that it was just a generation ago that icons such as Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were able to take principled stands but also hammer out compromises.” You hear those names evoked by old school political observers, and they call to mind visions of party bosses sitting in back rooms sharing a glass of scotch and hammering out deals. While the back room deals and the good old boy politics may not be missed – the idea of the political compromise is something to be missed.


Debt Ceiling Solutions

There has been kind of a crowd sourcing of ideas for how to solve to the debt ceiling crisis, and the ideas include substantive policy ideas and purely political ideas. A few of the ideas I found particularly interesting, and I think the way forward for the Obama Administration is to use a combination of a few. Below are a few ideas that the President should use in some form or another beginning with his remarks tonight.

The New York Times editorial board argues that President Obama should threaten to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, and not based on the 14th Amendment but on “president’s role as the ultimate guardian of the constitutional order.”

“A deadlocked Congress has become incapable of acting consistently; it commits to entitlements it will not reduce, appropriates funds it does not have, borrows money it cannot repay and then imposes a debt ceiling it will not raise. One of those things must give; in reality, that means that the conflicting laws will have to be reconciled by the only actor who combines the power to act with a willingness to shoulder responsibility — the president.”

Elizabeth Drew writes at Politico that the President should demand a clean bill raising the debt limit, and that he should “veto any bill encumbered by amendments, and emphasize that if the Congress does not comply he will take the issue to the American people.”

“It’s come time, perhaps long-since come time, for Obama to take charge, show some strength and commit an act of political jujitsu that will leave the Republicans gasping for air. In a short speech to the nation, Obama might remind his fellow citizens of the patience he has shown, of the fact that time is running out for the drafting and passage of a bill to increase the debt ceiling. He could make it clear that to lift the debt ceiling does not, as many people seem to think, sanction the spending of one more dime than the Congress has not already agreed to.”

David Callahan at the Policy Shop says the Democrats could agree to the large spending cuts that the Republicans are demanding, and then simply obstruct an extension of the Bush tax cuts.

“Democrats agree to $2.5 trillion in spending cuts now and reserve another $1 trillion in cuts for future hostage-taking episodes — for a grand total of $3.5 trillion in cuts. Ending the Bush tax cuts then brings in another $3.7 trillion in revenues over the next decade. That’s a big deficit reduction plan with a 1-1 ratio of revenue hikes to spending cuts, which is far more progressive than what the White House has been offering and more progressive than the Simpson-Bowles plan.”

Join me on Twitter to live-tweet during the President’s remarks tonight.


Thoughts on the #AskObama Twitter Town Hall

It was an interesting concept, and a fascinating look at social media interaction. The White House hosted 140 visitors to hold the first ever Twitter town hall. Jack Dorsey, the creator and co-founder and Executive Chairman of Twitter, asked President Obama from Twitter users around the country. Questions were tweeted to the hash tag #AskObama, and then either retweeted direction by the White House or a collection of curators. Twitter users were also encouraged to re-tweet questions that they supported, and to tweet their reactions to Obama’s answers.

On average Obama used 2,099 characters to answer questions less than 140 characters, but the President also began the town hall with a live tweet that was 96 characters long. The subject of the town hall was about the economy and jobs, but Obama fielded questions about topics as varied as higher education, immigration, and collective bargaining. While the first several questions had been selected from tweets earlier in the day, later questions were selected that were tweeted during the town hall. The event did give the feeling of some live interaction, but there were a few things that could have been improved.

While Dorsey served as the moderator to read the questions from Twitter and move the town hall forward, he did not ask follow up questions or ask Obama to clarify his answers. Perhaps the moderator would have been better suited for a journalist – maybe someone from CNN since they always seem to be reading tweets on the air. Then there was the decision to ask questions tweeted from Speaker of the House John Boehner and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. That seems to defeat the entire purpose of the event. David Meerman Scott, who tweeted the first question, does not have the same access to the President as the Speaker of the House and a New York Times columnist.

Outside of the tweets that were appearing on the screen in the White House, the social messaging system was exploding with tweets asking questions, responding to Obama, and responding to each other. While I had my own question for the President, I spent the town hall sharing my thoughts on the Obama’s answers and interacting with others on Twitter. The conversation in the end may have been the most important part of the event, as we were all able to join in a national dialog about policy. When you have thousands of people participating in the conversation, a limitation of 140 characters does prevent anyone from monopolizng the discussion. What’s the opposite of a filibuster?